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REVIEW S
i Introduction
GeneralPhilosophy
Sections
Limitationsof Empiricism 2
Philosophyof Mathematics
Criticism of Wittgenstein's general views 3-4
Background material 5-6
1Anotherobjectioncitesthemisleading (mystifying)picturesthatmaybe associated
with thesenotions(e.g. p. 36, 19). Equallysuperficialobjectionscan be madeto
' ruleof
language': is it madeby a secretbody? Isit renewed?
K I37
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Philosophyof Mathematics(cont.)
Strict Fihitism Wittgenstein's
cont. 7
Proof Theory Wttgenses contributions 8
in
Specific topics higher mathematics 9-12
I also add a personalnote 3
2 Limitationsof Empiricism
The present section has the modest aim of suggesting a framework for
reading Wittgenstein's remarkson general philosophy. For lack of a true
understandingof the matters involved, I shall employ concepts commonly
used in philosophy, by Wittgenstein and others, although I know how
superficial similar-sounding concepts are when applied to the subject
matter about which I have thought, e.g. sections 5-8 below.
Wittgenstein'sstartingpoint is this: he is not preparedto use the notions
of mathematical object and mathematical truth as tools in philosophy.
Actually he gives some arguments against them, but, as stated in 1.3a,
I do not find them convincing. To me the real objection to these notions
is that, at any rate as far as I know, there does not exist a single significant
development in philosophy 1 based on them; in fact, some uses of these
notions seem quite contentless such as the familiar 'explanation' of the
consistency of our mathematical results by saying that our results agree
because we deal with the same objects. As I see it, the position is similar
to that of the notions of the atom or absolute simultaneity at the time of
the Greeks: neither of them could be used for understandingthe world
at the stage of technical and conceptual development of that time. (I
chose the atom as an example of a notion with a future, and absolute
simultaneity as an example of a notion which was later discarded.) In
other words, the notion of a mathematicalobject is defective because one
has no clue for using it to provide satisfactoryanswersto the (philosophically
significant) questions which it should answer, but no case has been made
out that it cannot do so-rather like philosophy itself.
Now, granted that such ' metaphysical' notions as that of a mathematical
object are to be avoided in favour of an empiricist approach in the sense
of I.2d, it seems quite natural that Wittgenstein should be concerned with
the positions I.2a, i.2b, i.2c. Partly their attraction is due to wishful
1The contentof thisnotiondoesnot seemto lie hereat all,butin the conception
of set whichit suggests(cf. section2.2). Theinconsistency of the naivenotionof a
set is no morea defectin the conceptof a mathematical object,thanthe Greekcon-
ceptionof a starasa holein theskyis a defectin ourconceptionof a starasa hot gas.
it shouldbe notedthatWittgenstein
Incidentally, arguesagainsta notionof a mathe-
maticalobject(presumably:substance), but, at leastin places(p. 124, 35 or p. 96, 7I,
lines 5 and 4 from below) not againstthe objectivityof mathematics, especially
throughhis recognition of formnalfacts(p. I28, 5o).
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thinking, but also there are valid, albeit inconclusive, reasonsin their favour.
I begin with the former.
As to I.2a, it is clearthat languageis something ' tangible ', not a ' hidden'
object; as to I.2b, proofs are recognisedspontaneously,like colour (cf. p. 96,
70 or p. I25, 36), in contrastto theorems which, when regardedas assertions
about mathematical objects, are inaccessible; as to i.2c, experiments are
something practicaland they tell us facts(p. 99, 76 or p. I7I, I4). Moreover,
from these points of view the problem of an ultimate justification for
mathematicalassertionsdoes not arise: in case I.2a, since there is no sense
in speaking of the truth of a rule anyway; in I.2b, since there is no sense
in speaking of the truth of an assertionbefore its meaning has been fixed,
and so, if the proof is needed to determine the meaning of a theorem,
then there can be no question of a justification for principles of proof;
and in I.2c, one is simply seeing what is happening and this is supposed to
be unproblematic.
Of course, these formulations are oversimplified, and the positions
I.2a-I.2c are not plausible just because it is obvious that there are real
problems connected with the justification of principles of proof. But
it is interesting to see directly where these positions go wrong. Wittgen-
stein's remarks on this will be briefly touched in 2.1-2.3. Also I shall
try to indicate roughly what is sound about these positions.
Note that 1.2a and 1.2b are more or less complementary because 1.2a
leaves open the exact role of proof in mathematics, while I.2b is mainly
concerned with this question. Position 1.2Cis contradictory to the others.
What is common to them is that, separately,they are in the direction of
an empiricist approach.
2.I. In favour of I.2a we can say that, whatever else a theorem may be,
it certainlyis also a rule of inference: e.g. if A is a theorem, A -B is taken to
imply B. Regarded as a reduction, I.2a is open to the objection of 1.3
above. Wittgenstein stresses (p. I84, 32) a more interesting point which
shows a generallimitation of crude empiricism: while he regards' believing
oneself to follow a rule' as an empirical notion, the notion of following
a rule correctly is not. In short, there is a non-empirical residue in the
notion of a rule of language. The same applies also to the formalist con-
ception of mathematics as a manipulation of symbols because the mathe-
matical content does not lie in the physical production of the symbols,
but in the formal fact that the symbols are produced in accordancewith the
given rule, or, as Wittgenstein prefers to put it (p. 81, 38), in our accepting
the sequence of symbols as an application of the rule. He goes on to say
' but once we go in for this businessof acceptance,then it need not be of a
geometricalnature', i.e. it need not be restrictedto constructionof sequences
of symbols according to syntactic rules. The point seems to me of im-
portance for foundations generally, but Wittgenstein does not develop it.
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Position I.2a raisesthe question why proofs are needed since a rule of
language,as ordinarilyunderstood,is a matterof simple decision. Wittgen-
stein does not give a plain answer, but suggests (p. 77, 28) that the proof
tells us how to use the rule.
2.2. A parallel development to this suggestion is provided by 1.2b,
e.g. p. 144, 4: before the proof is given the concept is pliable. The doctrine
that the proof determines the meaning of the theorem, is familiar from
intuitionistwritings. As G6del has pointed out to me (but see also p. 93, 61)
the doctrine is supported at the level of computations where one considers
symbolic operations with numerals in contrast to assertionsabout numbers
considered as characteristicsof sets: '5 + 7 = 12', at this level, means
that this equation is the last of some sequence of equations obtained by
the applicationof certain rules, and the proof goes just the one step further
of exhibiting this sequence. But as soon as one regardsnumbersas charac-
teristics of sets one can meaningfully ask whether certain computational
rules are correct, and to this extent statementsabout numbershave meaning
independentof the rules of proof considered. Quite generally, it is simply
not true that proof is primary and theorem derived, that only the proof
determines the content of a theorem. In fact, Wittgenstein is wrong
in saying that generally we change our way of looking at a theorem during
the proof (p. 122, 30), but equally often we change our way of looking
at the proof as a result of restating the theorem; e.g. if we are accus-
tomed to the principle of proof that the totality of all subsets of a set is
itself a set, we may reject it when it is pointed out to us that it is only
valid for the notion of a combinatorial set and not, e.g. for the notion of
a set as a rule of construction. (I chose this example, instead, e.g. can-
cellation by zero, because in the present case a restatementof the theorem
is involved.)
2.2a. I believe that Wittgenstein's violent dislike of the consistency
problem is connected with the thesis that proofis the fundamentalconcept.
For, on the one hand it is difficult to understandhow it is that different
correct proofs do not lead to contradictoryresults,and that the calculations
of differentpeople agree. On the other hand there seems to be no approach
to this problem on an empiricist basis. Wittgenstein proceeds as follows.
He minimises the importance of consistency (p. Ios, 8I) by saying that he
could imagine people who would be proud of a contradiction: but why
should one attach more weight to Wittgenstein's imaginings than to the
fact that people are not ? He attributes(p. 122, 30) the agreementbetween
different people to a similarity of training, though presumably the same
could be said about the agreement between reports of the same physical
event by differentpeople; or (p. 13, 35) simply callsthe agreementinteresting,
obviously implying that one should recognise this as a necessarycondition
for mathematics(p. 164) and not ask for explanations.
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The situationis quite unsatisfactory. We shall returnto a more detailed
discussion of consistency in section II.
2.2b. Godel's remark in section 2.2 is a particular case of a general
approachto the relationbetween proof and theorem,which hasbeen developed
by him. (The discussionbelow is a slight elaboration.)
The proof is not said to determinethe meaning, but to enter into the
meaning of a theorem as follows: the assertionA is interpretedas: A has
(actually) been proved, say by a particularindividual. On this interpreta-
tion, trivially A is false before a proof is given but of course not necessarily
absurd. The fact, that A is false, is not of mathematicalinterest, that A is
true is, but from this we can only conclude that therefore it always will be
true, not that it always was. Clearly this is not the common interpretation
of mathematicalassertions.
What has been said so far is of course clear. But significant resultsare
obtained if the interpretation is carried through thoroughly, for then a
theorembecomesan assertionaboutthe actualstructureof its ownproof. For this
one interpretsB -> C as: it has been proved that if B has been proved then
so has C, and similarly with the other logical connectives. (Absurdity is
used only if we have a restriction on proofs which excludes proofs of a
formula A, so that for each A we may assertA -+ A on the present inter-
pretation.) In propositional reasoning the following stipulation about the
individualwhose proofs are consideredmust be made: at each stage he keeps
his set of theorems closed under modusponens. Note that the interpretation
of the symbol ' -' is not circular, because the ' if ... then' in ' if B has
been proved then so has C' applies to propositions about a concretely
specified totality, namely the proofs actually constructedby the individual
at a given time, and so the truth functional interpretationis quite unprob-
lematic here. Note also that only a minimum of conditions is imposed on
the proof proceduresemployed by the individual considered.
For more sophisticated kinds of reasoning, where as, e.g. in number
theory substitutionof arbitrarynumeralsis permitted, it is unlikely that the
necessaryclosure conditions on the set of theorems can actually be realised,
because the set would be infinite. However it seems plausible that the
interpretationappliesif' B has been proved 'is replacedby' B can be proved
from the theorems already constructed by means of (suitably chosen)
decidable rules' so that the logical connectives in the interpretationremain
unproblematic. An exact study of this would seem to be desirable.
To repeat: we have here an interpretationof (a certain class of) mathe-
maticalassertionsaccordingto which the latterare' about' empiricallygiven
sets of proofs satisfying certain closure conditions. It is not the only, or
even most natural interpretation. No doubt the phrase 'the concept is
pliable before the proof is given ' is elastic enough; but it is difficult to say
whether it will stretch to cover the present section.
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2.3. Wittgenstein does not support position I.2c at all (p. 124, 35 or
p. 173, line 5 from bottom). His criticismof I.2c leadsto a generalcriticism
of naive empiricism: one needs concepts to tell us what are facts and mathe-
maticsprovides them and handlesthem. Becauseof the generalimplications
of this observation I do not feel competent to discuss it in detail, nor do
I know how closely it is connected with the familiar claim that concepts
are needed in the description of nature. But Wittgenstein's presentation
of this view seems specially vivid, particularly in his discussion of the
difference between measurement1 and experiment (p. 98, 74): the same
physical acts constitute in one case a measurement, in the other an
experiment.
2.3a. The fact just mentioned immediately raisesthe question wherein
this difference lies. It would be wholly barren to reply that it lies in the
intention of the agent and that it is to be discoveredby asking him whether
he is making an experiment or a measurement. Wittgenstein wishes to
remove the distinction from the sphere of psychology by saying that
whether an act is a measurementor an experiment dependson the language
game of which it is a part. It is not at all clear to me that this nice word
'language game' really clarifies the traditional term' meaning ', and does
not merely replaceit.
There seems to be something psychological in the distinctionconsidered,
because, with our present experience of machines, it does not seem possible
to say significantly of a machine that it is making a measurement or an
experiment: instead, we use it for such a purpose (cf. p. 133, 2: does a
calculating machine calculate?).
Wittgenstein employs severalother notions with a similarpsychological
flavourin his attemptsto characterise(certainaspectsof) proofs, e.g. p. 14, 39:
to impress a procedure upon someone; p. 18, 53: to use something as
a picture; p. 72, 14: to use it as a paradigm; p. 45, 153: to take in a structure
at a glance, etc.
2.4. This completes a very rough review of Wittgenstein's remarkson
general philosophy. My impression is that he has not put forward a
coherent framework within which one can significantly discuss the nature
of mathematics. We are left with a shambles, although the remarks
1 He alsotalksaboutthedifference betweencalculation andexperiment (p.95, 69).
The discussion shouldbe elucidated;first,it would be more reasonable to confine
attentionto the difference
betweencalculating andexperimenting since
in mathematics
otherwisethe most obvious differences of subjectmatterobscurethe differences
at
issue; second,Wittgensteinalso comparescalculatingwith measuringand with
settingupmeansof measurement.Thelatteris atleastasproblematical ascalculating:
consider,e.g. the theoreticalproblemsinvolvedin settingup a unit of time which,
contraryto popularmisconceptions, is not done by settingup some conventional
of and
piece apparatus defining it to be the measureof time.
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contain some sound criticisms of the naive empiricist approach in the
sense of I.2d.
The remainderof the review, except for a brief digressionin section 3.3,
is concerned with the foundations of mathematicsin the sense of section i.
3 Wittgenstein's GeneralConclusions
I consider the conclusions which I have attributed to Wittgenstein
in I.3b, confining myself mainly to points of specifically mathematical
interest. I do not accept his conclusions since I do not think that they are
fruitful for further research. The points raised in the present section and
the discussion of 8.4 below seem to me to show that the value of the book
doesnot lie in a new point of view, but in penetratingobservationsand questions
on a limitedsubjectmatter.
3.I. Even though the aims of the traditionalschools of philosophy in
their crude form are unattainable,I do not see why these aims should not
be modified in the light of criticism, and then pursued. Thus, though
the requirementsof strict empiricism cannot be satisfied,a leaning towards
it seems fruitful. It seems to me that Lorenzen'soperative logic constitutes
an interesting formulation of the idea that theorems are rules of language:
Lorenzen, of course, does not try to reduce the act of following a rule
(correctly) to empiricist terms, but starts with the fact (or: idealisation)
that we do follow rules. And notwithstanding the criticisms of 2.2a and
2.2b, we can develop a mathematicsbased on the primitive concept of proof
or even constructive proof, as the intuitionists have done (6): we ignore
the problem of how we come to recognise a proof and start from the fact
(or: idealisation)that we do. Only, as statedin 2.I, it is not likely that one
approach will turn out to be 'more unique' than the other (cf. also 8.3b).
3.2. As far as mathematicalfoundations are concerned, it is certainly
true that if mathematicalconcepts are used in foundations, they are liable
to raise the same type of problem as they are supposed to answer: we are
left with elucidations rather than explanations (see Godel on consistency
proofs, impredicativity of the notion of intuitionistic proof, and of a set:
to mention difficulties met by the three most prominent mathematical
approaches to the foundations of mathematics). But to quote out of
context (p. 174, I6): don't demand too much and have no fear of your
problems dissolving into nothing. In fact, mathematical logic has done
far more to get an overall view of mathematics, to help us find our way
about (p. Io4, 80), than any other single discipline: it provided concepts
necessary for the description of mathematics, just as, according to
Wittgenstein, mathematicsprovides the conceptsnecessaryin the description
of nature.
Wittgenstein'sviews on mathematicallogic are not worth much because
he knew very little and what he knew was confined to the Frege-Russell
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line of goods.l But it is true that the methods of mathematical logic
have not been appliedsuccessfullyto the subjectof elementarycomputations
(7.I), and this is precisely the subject which interestedhim most.
3.3. As to Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy, there are two
questions: the rejection of other conceptions and the promise of his own,
the clarificationof the grammar of mathematics. He does not say exactly
wherein this consists,but it is evidently to do with applicationsand intellectual
institutions (e.g. p. 176, I8 last paragraph,or p. 173, paragraph8). The
concepts used in his description of our mathematical activity are those
of 2.3a. Now, I see no objection to them on formal grounds, and I can
believe that they afford a better framework than either a purely empiricist
(behaviourist) or a purely introspective analysis. But these notions and
the whole programme of clarifying the grammar remind me of the ' soft 2
options' at school: human geography (not the mineral composition of
mountains, but their effect on history) or economic chemistry (not the
atomic structure of the chemical elements, but their uses in society). It
is all sensible and interesting, not hackneyed (p. 170), but often bypasses
the problems which later turn out to be most fruitful. But even if this
conception turns out to be useful, there is no clear reason for rejecting
the others, no more than that human geography should exclude scientific
geology. There are such traditional problems as the genesis of our
mathematical concepts, the justification of proofs, i.e. what makes them
correct ratherthan what makes them interesting,which are the fundamental
concepts and which derived: we need a conceptual apparatusto formulate
these questionsin a satisfactoryway, and we do not have such an apparatus.
But it seems unlikely that the concepts favoured by Wittgenstein will
provide it. It is by no means clear that these questionsare ripe for a precise
formulation, any more than the general (and natural) questions of present
day mathematicswere ripe for a formulation at the time of the Greeks.
4
There is another, less austere conception of the philosophy of mathe-
matics, which Wittgenstein ignores too. Since this conception, it seems
to me, underliesmost of current work in mathematicallogic, he implicitly
rejects it by rejecting mathematical logic. As mathematics has grown,
a variety of different methods of proof, definitions, theorems have
1Thisisnot atalltypicalof thesubject. However,I amtoldthatmanyprofessional
philosophersare similarlyuneducatedand are, therefore,likely to have similarly
distortedviews.
2 This of philosophyis supportedby Wittgenstein's
impression generalcomments
on his conceptionof philosophy:perhapsone shouldnot pay too muchattentionto
them sincesome passagesin the book (cf. Sections7 and 8 below) involve'hard
analysis'.
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accumulated. By the light of nature we see differences,groupings within
one branch, and similarities between different branches of mathematics.
One may see one aim of a philosophy of mathematics in getting a clear
understandingof these connections, and there is no reason in advance why
this should be done only by reference to ' applications', and not, e.g. by
mathematical properties, by mathematical characterisations. From this
point of view it is a contribution to the philosophy of mathematicsif a
new aspect of the methods of mathematicshas been noticed, such as, e.g.
Wittgenstein's own observations discussed in sections 7 and 8 below;
here there is no one fundamentalproblem. I regardthe' rival' philosophies
of mathematics in this light: not as contradictory in substance, but as
emphasising different aspects of mathematics (cf. writings of Bernays
quoted below).
4.I. It should be observed that the originatorsof the rival philosophies
took a differentview: they insistedon rejectingthose aspectsof mathematics
which they did not consider themselves; like a woman who fears one
would not be interested in her if one remembered that others existed
besides her. Of course, from the point of view of a Lebensphilosophie
these rival philosophies are contradictory because they regard different
aspectsof mathematicsas specially important.
5 Background(Set Theory)
The historical background to Wittgenstein's remarks consists of
two parts. First there is the logicistic reduction of mathematics to logic
and abstract set theory: many of Wittgenstein's remarks are a reaction
against this. Second, there are the so-called constructive tendencies which
are also a reaction to the logicistic approach or, at least, are in a different
direction. We describe the reduction to set theory first, and then some
brands of constructivism in order to compare Wittgenstein's views with
them.
Abstract set theory provides the most famous of all foundations of
mathematics. The remarkablefact is this: each known branch of mathe-
matics has a model in abstractset theory, and frequently, a most natural
model. Thus, e.g. the question 'what is a number' to which it is hard to
give a naturalmeaning, gets the answer: an element of the set which is the
intersection of all inductive sets. Similarly, the corresponding questions
for other mathematicalconcepts are answered in this uniform way. It is
fair to say that this programme of regarding our mathematics from this
point of view of set theory has been carried out in far more detail than,
e.g. the programme of describing the physical world as assemblages of
fundamental particles. (The common feature of these programmes is
that they reduce the numberof 'primitives '.) In particular,the develop-
ment of arithmetic within set theory has not only helped us to understand
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arithmetic better, but has had important repercussionson the study of set
theory and logic generally, e.g. it permits the application of GSdel's
incompletenesstheorem to systems of set theory, and related results.
5.I. The interest of the discovery just described cannot be doubted.
But it is not so clear that it satisfiesthe philosopher who seeks a ' simpler'
foundation, who looks for the fundamental concepts in mathematics and
wants to build up derived ones. Those philosophers who see the content
of a scientific statement in the observationalverification will deny that the
fundamentalparticlesare simpler than the physical objects of our experience,
but they cannot deny that at least they are smaller. There is no obvious
order in which abstractsets precede numbers, as the fundamentalparticles
precede objects of our immediate experience in size. And, as e.g. Poincare
pointed out with great lucidity, the reduction of arithmetic to set theory
itself requires the processes of arithmetic. If the notion of number pre-
supposes the concept of a finite set, even then, as Lorenzen has observed,1
this does not mean that one has to consider arbitrarysets first and then
restrict them to fiite ones. In other words, in this searchfor foundations,
for notions with a more elementary content, one may wish to select parts
of mathematics, or, in particular, parts of set theory. Wittgenstein
emphasisesstrongly the mathematicalsignificance of such selections.
5.2. Another respect in which the set theoretic foundations fail, is
in characterisingthe constructive aspects of mathematics which Berays
calls, epigrammatically, a mathematics of doing (cf. also p. 118, I5) in
contrast to a mathematics of being, or, more formally, an idealisation of
process as against an idealisation of what is the case. Neither of these
conceptions can be expected to be fully comprehended by the other;
although thereareinterestingformal relationsbetween them. It is interesting
to note that there is not only a constructivistcritique of so-called classical
(' platonistic') mathematics, but also a converse. In fact, many mathe-
maticiansare almost proud to declarethat they don't understandintuitionism
(or the other constructive tendencies); they ask: how do you define
constructive proof? and do not really expect an answer; rightly as long
as they presuppose a definition in set theoretical terms. Their complaint
about the vagueness (meaninglessness)of the notion of constructive proof
is on a par with the intuitionist complaint about the meaninglessnessof
the notion of arbitraryfunctions: how do you specify them, since they are
supposed to be non-enumerable? Yet without giving a list of either
arbitrary sets or of all constructive proofs, Zermelo laid down properties
of the former notion in his set theory and Heyting of the latter in his axiom
systemsfor intuitionisticlogic. From now on we shallbe mainly concerned
with the constructiveside and we discussit on its merits without attempting
to reduce it to set theoretical terms.
1Math, Ann., 195 , 123, 331-338
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6 Background(Constructivity)
It is the custom to lump together all constructive tendencies under the
heading of intuitionism. To get a little more orientationwe shall distinguish
between intuitionism proper as developed by Brouwer and Heyting, and
finitism. There is an even narrowerconception of constructivemathematics,
namely strictfinitism, a notion described by Bernays in ' Sur le platonisme
dans les mathematiques'.1 Wittgenstein'sviews seem relatedand favourable
to intuitionism, probably mainly because of common features such as the
objection to the idea of a mathematical object, the priority attached to
proofs over theorems (cf. 2.2), and the use of Brouwer's household example
of the decimal expansion of r (p. I38, 9 or p. 144, 19, or p. I47, 27). But
a closer look shows that this similarityis superficial,and that Wittgenstein's
views on mathematics are near those of strict finitism; or, perhaps one
should say, he concentrateson the strictly finitist aspects of mathematics.
To justify this assertionit is necessaryto describe some differencesbetween
these three constructivist tendencies. (Strict finitism will be considered in
the next section.)
6.I. First, we describe differences on a general (epistemological)
level. Hilbert-Bernays2 states that intuitionism permits the use of general
logical considerations in addition to the combinatorial facts with which
fmitist mathematics is concerned. Intuitionism deals with 'mental con-
structions' while a finitist piece of mathematics is to be regarded as a
Gedanken experiment (descriptionof an experiment) with concreteobjects 3
which are thought of as reproducible,are to be recognisable,and surveyable,
i.e. thought of as built up of discretepartswhose structurecan be surveyed.4
Intuitionism includes finitism because a picture of a concrete object can be
used in a mental construction,as this word is employed by the intuitionists.
But it goes beyond finitism because it makes statements concerning all
possible constructions,which certainly do not constitute a concrete totality.
These, and similar, general differences become apparent in the typical
features of the notion of intuitionist as opposed to fmitist proof: a false
propositionimplies anything; undecidedpropositions,and even implications
between such propositions, may be used as premissesin implications,i.e. one
makes assertionswhich involve an hypothetical proof, namely a proof of
the premise, though the totality of all proofs is not concretely specified
(it is regarded as an accident that in most proofs of implications A - B
the details of the proof of A are not used in the proof of B, as, e.g. in
- B to the
[A & (A -> B)] -- B where one need merely attach the proof of A
1Enseignement mathematique, 1935,34, 52-69
2 derMathematik,1934 I, 43 3 Ibid, 20, line 8 from foot.
Grundlagen p.
4
Ibid, p. 21, lines 21-23, where Bernaysuses 'iiberblickbar' instead of Wittgen-
stein's'iibersehbar ', e.g. p. 65, i, withits ambiguityof' overlook'and'look over'.
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proof of A in order to get a proof of B, though, in fact, Brouwer's proof
of the fan theorem is the only known example of the contrary case); as
a result it is not clear what 'construction' constitutes the content of such
an implication: this applies in particularto the double negations of which
intuitionist writings are full.
6.Ia. Granted that features of this kind are typical of the difference
between finitist and intuitionist mathematics,it is clearthat it is unprofitable
to compare Wittgenstein's views and intuitionism. For, in his simple
computationalexampleswe are dealing with strictlycombinatorialprocesses,
and the typically intuitionist concepts do not apply: he leaves off before
intuitionism starts.
6.2. Finitist mathematics does not use the general notion of a con-
structive proof at all, in fact it might be said to avoid logicalinferences
(which involve an impredicative concept of proof) because it is restricted
to purely combinatorial operations. In particular,the logical connectives
have a purely combinatoralcharactersince they are appliedonly to decidable
formulae and so the truth functional interpretation(truth table method) is
not problematic. Universal quantifiers are not used at all except in so
far as they can be replaced by free variables, e.g. not in the premiss of an
implication. Existential quantifiersare used as shorthandfor a (construc-
tive) function or functional: if they occur in a premiss,e.g. (Ex) A (x) -> B,
they are interpretedas A (n) -> B, when n is a free variablewhich does not
occur in A (x) nor in B. Iteratedimplications are not used at all. These
restrictionsall follow more or less cogently from the general conception
of a mathematics about concretely presented objects.
6.2a. The reasonwhy thereis suchgeneralconfusionabout the difference
between finitist and intuitionist proofs is simply this: one very rarely
uses all that intuitionismwould allow, e.g. up to the presentwe do not know,
for A known to be recursive,a single intuitionistproof of N (x) A (x) where
we cannot specify an n such that -, A (n) (though the general conception
of an intuitionist proof makes it plausible that there are such A); again
(x) A (x) -(y) B (y) can always be sharpened in known cases to
A [f(n)] - B (n) where f (n) is a specified (constructive)function. Iterated
implications are extremely rare in mathematicsanyway.
6.3. In short, all the mathematics which Wittgenstein considers clear
(not, e.g. the completeness of the set of real numbers) fits comfortably
within the framework of finitist mathematics, and so, as stated in 6.ia, it
is futile to compare his views with intuitionism. In fact it will turn out
that an even narrower aspect of mathematicsis considered by him.
7 Strictfinitism
Finitismis, of course, an idealisationtoo, i.e. it ignores certaindifferences
and distinctions based upon them. In particular,it does not distinguish
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between constructions which consist of a finite number of steps and those
which can actually be carriedout, or between configurationswhich consist
of a fiite number of discrete parts and those which can actually be kept
in mind (or surveyed). In fact within any given degree of sophistication
of proofs a classification according to the degree of complexity is most
natural. Wittgenstein stresses (p. 65, 2) the further point that explicit
definitions and new notations may convert a piece of mathematics which
is not strictly finitist into one.
7.I. No rigorous work has been done on this subject,partly, no doubt,
because the current methods of mathematical logic do not seem to lend
themselves to it. Perhaps the study of fiite computing machines or the
human learningprocess will make the problems which arisehere practically
pressing. But also, so far, this concept of finitist proof in the strict sense
has not been applied to questionswhich interestlogicians such as the general
notion of' equivalence of proofs ' or ' content of proofs '. It seems to me
that Wittgenstein gives some very interestinghints in this connection which
will be describedin the next section.
7.2. To avoid misunderstanding: I myself have not worked on strict
finitism, and do not know what direction researchon it might take. But
Bernays and Wittgenstein have certainly drawn attention to a new area
of researchin foundations. Those logicians and philosophers whose taste
leads them to work in developed fields where others have created concepts
on which they can model their own, will certainly not be attracted to
strictfinitism at the presentstage; just as they would not have been attracted
to intuitionism before Heyting analysed its formal structure and Tarski
importantaspectsof its interpretation. Hao Wang continues this discussion
in a forthcoming article in Dialectica; in particularWittgenstein's concern
(para.2.2) with the relationbetween proof and theorem is seen in a new light
if one broadens the notion of strict finitism to that which one can actually
grasp; for, afterone has gone through a proof one actuallyhandlesa theorem
differentlyfrom before. The suggestion is undoubtedly in the right direc-
tion.
8 Equivalenceof Proofs
I shall discuss Wittgenstein's views by reference to his criticism of the
reduction of arithmetic to logic and to some remarks of his on non-
constructive existence proofs in analysis. It seems to me that what he
has to say about the reduction of arithmetic to logic is not concerned with
any peculiarities of the branches of mathematics considered, but applies
generally to proof theoreticalreductionsor translations,either mapping of
proofs of one kind into proofs of another, or theorems (provableformulae)
of one system into theorems of another.
8.I. Wittgenstein's first point concerning the reduction of numerical
arithmetic to logic with identity is this: we do not really have a reduction
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here because, by the methods of logic alone, we could not decide whether
a particularformula of logic correspondsto some given formula of numerical
arithmetic. Also there would always be the question of whether a rule has
been correctly applied(p. 89, 53, or p. i9, 56).
8.Ia. This point seems wholly acceptable, and, what is more, quite
familiar: it concerns the metamathematicalmethods used for investigating
relations between two systems. We do not speak of a ' reduction ' unless
the metamathematicalmethods are weaker in some suitable sense or, at
least,more evident than the methods studied. For instance,in his reduction
of formalised classical arithmetic to intuitionistic arithmetic, Godel was
careful to use finitist methods of proof. Again, if a system is decidable,
i.e. if there is an effective method of associating with every formula of
the system one of the formulae o = o, o = i (o = o with provable ones,
o = i with the others), we do not generally speak of a 'reduction' of
the system to arithmetic modulo 2: for, in general, the method used for
constructing this translation goes far beyond arithmetic modulo 2. In
the colourlesslanguage of professionallogicians one repliesto Wittgenstein's
question how we know that the rule (of translation)has been correctly
applied by saying: the whole reduction must be consideredrelative to the
methods of proof used in the metamathematical argument. And one
would agree with him that the metamathematicsrequiredfor a translation
of arithmetic into logic requires some arithmetical concepts. However
one would remember that without being a reduction such a translation
can be of centralimportance (cf. end of section 5).
8.Ib. Wittgenstein's next point is much more positive. Instead of
just saying that the metamathematical methods used in the translation
include the methods studied, he looks for appropriate weaker methods,
and observes, e.g. that the reduction of the decimal notation for numerals
to the stroke notation (p. 66, 3) cannot be done by strictly finitist methods.
He thereby uses the notion of strictfinitism for making a naturaldistinction,
which is not made customarily.
8.2. Wittgenstein repeatedly raises the question of characterisingthe
equivalenceof proofs in contrastto equivalenceof results(p. 69, 8; p. 69, 9;
p. 66, 3 last paragraph). This is a somewhat elusive notion, a little like
Heyting's notion of the completeness of a calculus with respect to proofs
and not only with respectto results,1but in particularcasesit is clearenough.
For instance, Shoenfield2 showed how to replace the induction schema
in the elementary quantifier-free arithmetic of addition by means of a
finite number of axioms, including a + b = b + a, without altering the
set of theorems. Now, it is intuitively clearthat the proofofa + b = b + a
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by induction does not have an 'equivalent' counterpart in the finitely
axiomatised system.
8.2a. Wittgenstein does not succeed in characterisingthis notion of
1
equivalence or in comparing proofs. He recognises(p. 93, 60) that under
too strict a criterion of equivalencea proof will be equivalent only to itself:
he does not see any objection to this, and does not attempt to fmd fruitful
criteria. But, in my opinion, he raisesan interestingproblem here.
8.3. He does attempt to find a characterisationof a very general
sort by basing a comparison of proofs on the application,2or, as he puts
it (p. 155, 46), on what I can do with it. I believe that at a certain level
this is a useful approach,but its limitationsare more interesting.
8.3a. Wittgenstein makes the remarkin connection with non-construc-
tive existence proofs in which I myself have been specially interested.
Supposewe have a proof of(Ex)A(x) or (Ex)(y)B(x, y) where we think of the
variables as ranging over natural numbers. The first thing that I may
expect to 'do' with the proof of such a formula is to read off from it
instructionsfor calculating an n such that A(n) holds. (With the ordinary
methods of proof this can be done if A is recursive.) In general I cannot
'do ' this in the second case, e.g. if we have a proof (naturallyby reductio
ad absurdum)of -(x)(Ey) ,B (x, y). Such a proof would generally
proceed as follows: suppose (x)(Ey) B (x, y), then for a certain function
'
Y(x), (x) B [x, Y (x)]; the proof (in general) shows , (x) B [x, Y (x)]
by constructing explicitly an xy (depending on Y) such that
B [xy, Y (xy)]. (I)
This formula, with its construction of (the functional) xy in terms of Y,
may be said to tell us what we can ' do ' with the non-constructiveexistence
proof.3
I do not think that this analysis is at all artificial: but it certainly pre-
supposes that we are looking for something of this sort, i.e. that we wish
to express 'what we can do with the non-constructive proof' in terms
of some quantifier-free(possibly finitist) assertionlike (i) above. Perhaps
l An incidentalobservation:I have sometimesfelt that Wittgenstein's violent
dislikeof the notionof mathematical truthis connectedwith comparisons of proofs.
He couldsee thatthe comparisonof proofswas informative,and he didn'thave a
snappyanswerto the objectionsometimesmadeby mathematicians: But all we want
to knowis whetherthe theoremis true. Theansweris: If you thinkaboutwhatyou
aresayingyou will seethatyou arewrong.
2 Thereseemsto be a conflictwith
p. 157, 52,wherehe saysthatit is uselessin the
philosophy of mathematics to reformulate proofs: one would have thoughtthat
thismightexhibitthe application especiallyclearly.
3All this involvesa restatementof the theoremand a consequentreformulation
of the proofwithout,as one says,changingthe ideaof the proof: cf. the preceding
footnote.
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it is particularly easy to say what we can 'do' with a non-constructive
existence proof because the matter of constructivity is at issue, and so a
complete elimination of the non-constructive use of the quantifier is all
we want, and we get it. The situationappearseven simplerpost hocbecause
also from a ' non-constructive' classicalpoint of view, (I) is better than
(Ex) (y) B (x, y) in the following sense: (Ex)(y)B(x, y) follows from
B [xy, Y (xy)] with the variable Y by pure (classical)logic, but not the
converse: graphically,(I) is more informative than (Ex)(y)B (x, y).
8.3b. But it seems to me that here we have a very special case in the
foundations of mathematics, because the requirements on a satisfactory
solution are pretty clear: as we have said above, the adjective 'non-
constructive' itself suggests what we should aim for. And in any case,
what we can 'do' with the non-constructive proof is more informative
than the non-constructive theorem.
But in the more fundamental problems of the foundations of mathe-
matics, the question' what can I do with it' does not seem to help. Suppose
I have a finitist and a non-finitist proof of a universal formula (x)A(x):
What can I 'do' with the former which I cannot do with the latter ?
In both cases, for each numeral n (errors excepted) we shall have A(n).
Incidentally,comparison between the intuitionist proof of the fan theorem
and Konig's proof of the corresponding theorem in classicalmathematics
raisesthe same question:1 what can I ' do ' with one, what with the other ?
Nothing like the question of 'estimates' for existential quantifiers,which
is central in the cases of 8.3a, is relevant here. What one is left with is
simply this: if one startswith the classical conception Brouwer's proof
is simply not valid becausehe makesan unjustifiedrestrictionon the methods
of proof of the hypothesis which in any case is not relevant because one
only wishes to assume its truth, and if one startswith the intuitionistic
conception Konig's proof is not valid because he employs a (provably)
non-constructive least number operator. I do not see any 'practical
purpose' or considerations of 'usefulness' which could decide between
the two proofs.
8.4. It is my impression that the emphasis on 'application' or 'on
what we can do with it' aims at unifying our point of view: we are to
look at two conceptions like the classical and intuitionist conception of
mathematics, and find a place for each from our point of view, namely:
according to their applications. Mathematicianssometimes pretend to a
similar criterion of judgment, namely: 'mathematical fruitfulness'.
Everybody knows that in subtle cases the criterion of fruitfulness usually
does not apply because people differ in just these cases in what they find
1 The restof with the proofsof Brouwer's
para.8. 3b presupposesacquaintance
fantheorem,e.g. in Heyting'sbookcitedin section8.2 above,andof the Unendlich-
keitslemma.
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9 HigherMathematics
The remainderof this review dealswith isolatedtopics which arediscussed
at length in the book. I make no attempt to relate them to a general
point of view. Some of them are so absurd that they seem due to very
general misconceptionsand not just carelessness(cf. p. 55, lines ii and I2).
It might be interesting to trace such connections.
Wittgenstein says (p. 58, 6) that it was the diagonal argument which
gave sense to the assertionthat the set of all sequences(of naturalnumbers)
is not enumerable. The definition is: a set of sequencesa(I), . .. a(m), .
is enumerable if there is a double sequence s(n, I),. . . s(n, m) . . ., n = i, 2,
. . . with the following property: for each sequence of the set, there is
an na such that a(I),... is identical with s(na, I), . ., i.e. for all
m, a(m) s(na, m).
= And the diagonal argument states, that the set of all
sequences is not enumerable because (i) if s(n,m) is a double sequence,
then s(n,n)+ I is also a sequence and so (ii) any proposed enumeration
s(n,m) fails to include one sequence, namely s(n,n) + I. One could only
wish that all one's assertionshad as much sense as the assertionof the non-
enumerabilityof the set of all sequencesbefore its proof !
9.I. What is wrong here? Well, after all there was a paradox,
Skolem's paradox,which puzzled people. The mistake is to think that the
diagonal argument applies only to the set of all sequences: given any set of
simple and double sequences satisfying (i), the non-enumerability of these
simple sequences by a double sequence of the set is established. In other
words we may expect quite ' small ' models of a set theory which satisfy the
nonenumerabilitycondition, since not only the sequencesbut also the means
of enumeration of these sequences are restricted in such a model. But
this does not at all mean that the set of all sequencesis ill defined: the fact
remainsthis set has the property (i).
IO
II
I2
Wittgenstein simply did not know what to say about the paradoxes.
I don't either. But one thing is clear: the fruitful problem is not to 'get
rid of them' but to get something out of them. Godel got his general
results on formal systems out of one set of paradoxes,Loeb got a beautiful
result out of another.
I myself have found the following version of Russell'sparadoxilluminat-
ing, though it does not seem to lend itself to generalisation.
Recall first that in one definition of natural numbers in set theory,
the null set correspondsto the number o and, if N correspondsto n, No{N}
corresponds to the successor of n. There is no greatest integer because
N,{N} is not included in N.
Now let us consider any set A with the property (f) that its members
4
do not belong to themselves, i.e. X c A-* X X, and hence A + A. So
A,{A} also has the property 9. In other words the Russellparadoxinvolves
the same argument as the theorem that there is no greatest integer, and at
the sametime suggestsa naturalway ofgeneralisingthe successorconstruction.
(From this point of view the RussellParadoxdoes not seem more astonishing
than a child's assumption that there is a greatest integer: we have over-
looked the fact that not every property has a definite extension.)
It is hard to say something really coherent about the paradoxes,but one
can do better than speak of a head of Janus looking down on the other
propositions(p. 131, 59), though I like the psychological accuracyof p. 3 I,
58.
13 PersonalNote
I knew Wittgenstein from 1942 to his death. We spent a lot of time
together talking about the foundations of mathematics, at a stage when I
had read nothing on it other than the usual Schundliteratur.I realise now
from this book that the topics raisedwere far from the centre of his interest
though he never let me suspect it.
1Whatis
rightabouthis criticismis this: if one is concernedwith realiability
in
a realisticsense,thenit would be wrongto consideronly the abstractrulesandnot
theiruse.
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What remainsto me of the agreeableillusionsproducedby the discussions
of this period is, perhaps, this: every significant piece of mathematics
has a solid mathematical core (p. 142, 16) and if we look honestly, we shall
see it. That is why Hilbert-Bernays vol. II, and particularly Herbrand's
theorem satisfied me: it separates out the combinatorial (quantifier-free)
part of a proof (in predicate logic) which is specific to the particular case,
from the 'logical' steps at the end. Certain interpretations of arithmetic
and analysis have a similar appeal for me. I realise that there are other points
of view,1 but for the branches of mathematics just mentioned, I still see
the mathematical core in the combinatorial or constructive aspect of the
proof.
I did not enjoy reading the present book. Of course I do not know what
I should have thought of it fifteen years ago; now it seems to me to be a
surprisingly insignificant product of a sparkling mind.
G. KREISEL
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Reading
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